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La Birra Vita

Posted September 13, 2011 | 12:59 am, by nadine

Rome is a bustling city. There is so much to see, between the Roman ruins, the renaissance art, the architecture, the great restaurants and the fun shops. Rome can be divided into many small areas, each of which has its own distinct charm. Much like each neighbourhood reveals a unique selection of shops and restaurants, scattered throughout the city are a number of fabulous beer destinations. Whether visiting ruins, fashion districts or museums, it’s always worth scanning the map to see if there is a beer bar nearby…

Twenty minutes away from the pantheon by foot, in the Trastevere area of Rome, is a necessary stop for all beer enthusiasts. This area houses two of the top beer establishments in Italy: Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa` football pub (www.football-pub.com) and Bir & Fud restaurant (birefud.blogspot.com.) The Ma Che Siete is a tiny pub with a warm wood interior. The owners regularly take road trips to visit European breweries and establish personal rapports with the brewers. As a result, they are able to stock all kinds of rare beers, including Lambics on tap. The team is very passionate, serving each beer at proper temperature, with a meticulous pour. The Ma Che Siete has been around for a long time and its reputation has been built on impeccable and informative bar service as well as a friendly atmosphere and fantastic beer selection. Across the street, the Bir & Fud focuses more on Italian craft beer. It is co-owned by Leonardo Di Vincenzo, brewer and owner of Birra del Borgo, and is one of very few establishments where del Borgo beer is available on cask. There are always six or seven Italian craft beers on draught, and approximately fifty in bottles. Bir & Fud also has a beer cellar full of tasty treats such as Thomas Hardy, Rochefort and De Dolle. The food is fresh and flavourful, highlighting seasonal fruits and vegetables as much as possible as well as beer, of course.

Both Ma Che Siete and Bir & Fud are co-owned by Manuele Colonna, who has been on the Roman beer scene for a long time. He is delighted with how well both establishments are doing. According to Colonna, there has been a steady increase in interest since he first opened the Ma Che Siete, but he notes that a big push came in 2004, when “Domozimurghi Romani” homebrew club was established along with the popular “Chronache di birra” blog. The Domozimurghi’s enthusiasm for craft beer proved to be contagious, and the increased demand for flavourful and interesting beer now allows Colonna and his team to be more creative and bold in the beers they bring in. Colonna is especially happy to report that the under-thirty demographic at his pub has increased greatly in the past few years. Colonna sees his role behind the bar as one of great responsibility and the whole staff at Ma Che Siete is very good at answering questions and helping newcomers to navigate the beer selection. This coming September, Colonna will be participating in the launch of yet another beer establishment, that will be situated just across the river. His partners in crime are, Leonardo Di Vincenzo (once again), as well as Teo Musso, owner and brewmaster for Birra Baladin. This bar will be called Open Baladin. Inspired by American tap houses. Open will have fifty draught lines, serving a selection of Italian craft beers and imports. This will be the second Open location in Italy. The first one opened on May 1st in the town of Cinziano, a 20 minute drive from the Baladin brewery. These Open bars are a part of a larger project by Teo Musso, which includes a beer by the same name. He describes Open as being an “open source” beer and he has published the full recipe online to encourage other brewers to make it. He is hoping that this will become Italy’s pub draught beer. With the current enthusiasm for craft beer in Rome, Colonna is confident that, with knowledgeable staff behind the bar, Open will do well in Rome.

In this thriving craft beer culture, it is surprising to note that there are no brewpubs in Rome. Having said this, the city is not lacking in great pubs. Perhaps the best known of these is Mastro Titta, on Via del Porto Fluviale, minutes away from Caius Cestius’ Pyramid-shaped tomb (and the Testaccio club district, for those who are looking for a little nightlife….) The owner, Giorgio Chioffi, has transformed the interior of what used to be a pre-fab Guiness pub into a very homey pub with an incredible selection of imports on draught. If you stay until the wee hours, you will also find a wide range of Roman pub owners and local brewers popping in for a nightcap after a long day’s work. This has been a tradition on the Roman beer scene for years. Also worth mentioning is Le Bon Bock Café (www.lebonbock.com.) With two locations, Le Bon Bock was one of the original Roman Beer bars. It now specializes in rare Scotch whisky, with a selection of over 200 labels as well as some English beers on draught.

Just down the river from Tiber Island, is the 4:20 (www.brasserie420.com) a beautiful establishment with a large rooftop patio. Specializing in Belgian and American imports, the enthusiastic owner, Alex Liberati, maintains a great selection both on draught and in bottles. Liberati is also in the process of building a brewery just outside Rome, which will be called Revelation Cat and will focus on collaborative and creative brews. Another great place for dinner is Senza Fondo (www.senzafondo.it.) Although it only has seven lines, the lineup at Senza Fondo includes a few rare Belgian brands that won’t be found anywhere else in Rome. Finally, Sir Daniel (www.sirdanielpub.it), east of Villa Borghese, is also worth a visit. This popular pub is decorated like a dungeon. Among the chains and wrought-iron details in the décor are the Draught Dispensing Regulators and FOB devices, which is quite unusual and it is fun to see the staff fiddle with it when they have to change a keg. The draught selection consists mostly of European Imports, but there is also a selection of Italian craft beer as well as a hand pump.

If you’re looking for a nice selection of bottles to bring home, Rome is also home to two stores that carry a large number of both Italian craft beer, and other European beers. Open since 2004, Johnny’s Off-License (www.offlisence.it) has garnered quite a reputation throughout Italy for it’s fabulous beer selection as well as its knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff. The team at the Off-License is discriminating in the beers it brings in, so those who are unfamiliar with Italian products can purchase in all confidence. As of this year, there is a second Off-License location that is minutes away from Vatican City. The other Roman beer store, called Gradi Plato (www.gradiplato.it) also has two locations, one of which is a few blocks away from the new Off-License. Although there is a significant overlap in beer selection between the two stores, there is enough difference in selection to warrant a visit to both. In addition, Gradi Plato specializes in beer exclusively (whereas the Off-License also carries wine.) In addition, Gradi Plato sells beer t-shirts, branded glassware and bottle openers, as well as a number of interesting gift items, such as beer chocolates and beer-based jams.

Rome is an extremely rich city for beer tourism, and it is a lot easier negotiating the crazy crowds and blazing heat at the coliseum or at the pantheon knowing that the day will end in a series of fresh and spectacular beers!

Publication: Celebrator Beer News

Date Published: August/September 2009

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